Mária Bartuszová

1936Prague, Czech Republic | 1996Košice, Slovakia

Slovak Sculptor.

Maria Bartuszová’s art was introduced to the general public in 2007 during Documenta 12 in Kassel. Originally from Prague, she moved to Košice with her husband, also an artist, after graduating in 1961. Košice was far away from the art world, with sparse group exhibitions and a few public projects. This, along with a casual membership with the then-fashionable Concretists’ Club, was the sum total of her official artistic life. She also faced the limitations imposed by life in a totalitarian system, financial problems, and raising children single-handedly. Under such circumstances, artistic experiments would seem quite a challenge. But against all odds, M. Bartuszová’s works exude power and the will to overcome: her oeuvre consists of some four hundred works; in spite of their extreme fragility, they are a lasting testimony to her extraordinary struggles and formal experiments.

The artist’s early works were inspired by natural processes. These works appear not to have been created for art galleries. Instead, they were made to become part of the landscape or a natural process. From the late 1960s, M. Bartuszová produced works that resembled kits: you could take them apart and re-assemble them. In 1976 and 1983, together with the art historian Gabriel Kladek, she ran workshops for blind and visually impaired children. They created sculptures that enabled the children to get to know various forms and textures, to differentiate between geometric and organic forms, to recognise their emotional significance and to develop their aesthetic imagination. From the 1980s, her work was dominated by pure, ovoid forms, hollowed eggs and shells, whose perfect shapes were subjected to deformation. The most appealing are the groups of oval forms constrained with string, sometimes weighted with small stones, in which the fragile plaster matter, squashed and limited by the external constraints seems to burst with life. With time, the gesture of touching and imprinting transforms into gestures of cutting, stabbing, piercing or tearing. Even though M. Bartuszová created exclusively abstract forms – unusually sparse or even minimalistic in expression – her art sizzles not only with violence but also eroticism, the intuition of damnation and the hope of memory, a deep reflection on the origins of life. In the mid-1980s M. Bartuszová began to employ a singular method called “pneumatic shaping”. She poured concrete over casts made with elastic rubber balloons. The balloons, weighted down by the concrete, would burst under pressure; the resulting objects are the negatives of the presence of the destroyed positives. Their forms brush against their own impossibility and, due to their material impermanence, they are nearly ephemeral sculptures. These works, which look like abandoned cocoons, began to fill up M. Bartuszová’s studio and later her garden. Sterile nests, petrified forms, flooded and stifled the growing branches; they no longer had anything in common with their earlier watching and imitating nature. This was an invasion of and a fight with nature. At the same time, the material employed continued to be plaster; exposed to the wind and rain, it would last only a brief while. In this way M. Bartuszová choice of plaster – a material which, from a sculptor’s point of view, is both primitive and common – became a core message for her work. She experimented with its impermanent and transitory nature and did not hesitate to treat tradition, accepted norms and learnt techniques as merely provisional. Since Documenta 12, the works by M. Bartuszová were featured in a couple of group exhibitions including Les Promesses du passé, 1955-2010 at Musée National d’Art Moderne  – Centre Georges Pompidou in 2010. In 2014 Maria Bartuszová: Provisional Forms – the first retrospective of the artist outside Slovakia – was organized at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.

Marta Dziewańska

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